657 S.E.2d 176
First, the creation and history of West Virginia's Regional Jail Authority is an unfortunate example of an anti-democratic trend in American government. The great innovator in this area was the late Robert Moses, who masterminded a system of transportation Authorities (for building bridges and highways) in New York State that were answerable to no one -- but controlled billions of public dollars. Using the archaic purported prohibition against public borrowing as an excuse for their creation, these Authorities (which are in many ways like the Regional Jail Authority) can become laws unto themselves, orchestrating multi-million-dollar deals that benefit powerful political forces _ but effectively outside the control of local and state elected officials, and ultimately, the voters.
No wonder democratically-elected West Virginia county governments chafe in their relationship with the Regional Jail Authority _ their only right is the right to pay up as much as the Authority says! (See footnote 1) The Court's opinion clearly points out that the democratically-elected Legislature has come close to entirely abdicating its duty to see that the RJA is both funded and operated in an efficient and fair fashion. There should be no blank checks for the RJA. County commissions cannot continue to send to the RJA signed checks with blanks in the amount lines that are to be filled in by RJA administrators.
The Legislature had better step up and restore some balance _ or taxpayers will rightfully revolt! It was not long ago that one of our more rural counties could not meet its payroll for county employees because of excessive monies it had to pay to the RJA.
Second, it should be noted that West Virginia has absolutely no need for the number of jail and prison beds it has now (much less an increase). Crime rates are down in our state. Most new admissions to jails and prisons are for nonviolent offenses. And, a substantial portion of jail and prison inmates are there because of their untreated mental illness.
The result is that our regional jails are overcrowded, but the truth is that for the
same or less money, many of the current inmates could be safely punished or safely managed
(with intensive supervision) in the community _ punishment that should be weighed heavily
with public service work, like cleaning highways, parks, streams, etc. Sadly, too many
prosecutors seek and judges impose long prison and jail sentences out of fear, anger, and re- election concerns _ not common sense or a compelling concern for public safety. And the bottom line is again that county commissions (with ordinary citizens' tax monies) have to pay up _ due to sentencing decisions that the commissions did not make. This situation cries out for Legislative attention.
Third, let's not forget that when it comes to locking people up, race matters. The percent of jail and prison inmates who are African American is hugely higher than the African American percentage in West Virginia's population. And for the same offenses, black West Virginians receive much harsher sentences. (See footnote 2) To not recognize this is to turn a blind eye to the truth. The Legislature should take a hard look at this situation, too.
Having made these points, I reluctantly concur.